Ministers are scared of reforming league tables because they fear attacks by the media, says a think-tank with close links to Labour.
The tables have harmed children's education, narrowed the curriculum and undermined teacher morale in challenging schools, a report by the Institute of Public Policy Research said.
"The annual publication of performance tables has evolved from an irritating splinter to a poisonous thorn wedged in the side of educational progress," it said.
Allegations that teachers will cheat or force sick children to sit tests in order to boost their school's performance are examples of the negative impact of tables. It says schools' behaviour "borders on obsession". The IPPR says that only four in ten parents use the tables and calls for an "informed consultation" to consider ending publication of raw test scores.
"The tables ... tell us more about the social make-up of schools than the quality of teaching. Whether the Government has the strength to take the lead in dispelling myths in the face of media opposition is doubtful, especially with an election looming in 2005," the report said.
The report was published in the week tables of 14-year-olds' results were published for the first time.
Ministers will be sensitive to the criticism from one of the Government's favourite think-tanks. Nick Pearce, IPPR acting director, is a former Department for Education and Skills special adviser.
The paper follows a report from the National Audit Office which called for sweeping changes to tables to prevent unfair criticism of schools in deprived areas.
Phil Willis MP, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said: "League tables skew parent choice, fail to give informed choice and condemn children with low performance to an educational underclass. Parents need more detailed individual information about school performance. The Government must take note of these findings and think long and hard about the cruel deception that they perpetrate on parents."
Time to say goodbye? The future of school performance tables is available at www.ippr.org.ukeducation